Sunday, September 25, 2011

Did Jesus Make You Angry?

 "...complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing." (Phil 2:2)

This morning I spent the first three Masses standing outside the Church doors greeting the people as they came in for Mass and as they exited.  Since there was a blood drive being held in the parish today, there were two volunteers inviting parishioners as they left if they would give blood.  The volunteers were shocked by the cold reaction of our people as they were leaving Mass.  Some people wouldn’t even acknowledge them or simply gave them a mean face for even bothering them.  Now mind you, some of these parishioners were walking out of Mass during communion which prompted me to wonder and almost ask one of them like a little child would:  “Did Jesus make you angry or something?”  I’ll return to this group of people in a bit.

This week’s readings pick up where last week’s readings left off.  We continue to see God favoring those who truly repent for past bad decisions over those who seemingly live virtuous lives but have gotten lazy and stop producing fruit for God’s kingdom.

We have two group of people referenced in today’s gospels:  the religious leaders of Israel and then the tax collectors and prostitutes.  The religious leaders represent the son who said yes to his father but did not go into the vineyard to work.  The tax collectors and prostitutes represent the son who initially tells his father that he would not got out to work in the vineyard but eventually does.  The son who goes into the vineyard will produce fruit from his labor.  The son that does not go into the vineyard is paying lip service to his father and produces no fruit.  What side do we fall under?

Last week, I made an aside remark during my homily that I never wrote down.  I made the analogy that these two groups of people reminds me of Catholics who come to Mass only on Easter and Christmas versus those of us who are here every week.  Those that come only a couple of times a year have a place at this table no matter how much they frustrate us for taking our parking spaces and seats because they may be moved to join us more frequently at this table where they belong.  Those of us who come weekly run the danger of falling into routine, of becoming stale, and not producing any fruit except for clocking in and clocking out at Mass for an hour a week.  I said it a few weeks ago:  we have to be careful not to fall into this routine.  Every time we come to Mass should be an experience all its own.  We must be open to the promptings of the Spirit that lead us to change our lives.  Yes, we say the same prayers and sing the same songs, but the readings are different and we should experience Jesus in a totally different way that challenges us to do more for the building up of his kingdom.  We must approach the Eucharist with a sense of wonder like someone who is approaching this sacrament for the first time or maybe even a couple of times a year. We should walk out with joy in our hearts because we have just experienced something heavenly.  The sinners of Jesus’ time understood that they had experienced the divine.  The religious establishment did not. 

I wonder if some of us fall under the title of “religious establishment.”  Most of us come to Mass every Sunday, but we want to do it on our own terms.  We want to arrive at a certain time, leave at a certain time, sit in the same pew, and not be bothered by anything going on around us.  We start to get very good at paying lip service to God, priests included, and have nothing to show for after Mass except that we were sitting in a pew for an hour once a week.   We don’t want to be bothered by the people around us who are trying to draw us in to the life of the Church yet we profess to be part of the Body of Christ.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we must be of the same mind and the same love, but some of us come to Mass as if we were the only people in the church.

We are in danger of becoming the Pharisees of our time if we continue to simply pay lip service to God and not produce fruit for his vineyard.  Every Sunday I stand outside and see so many people dash out of the church as if it was on fire with a sour look on their face.  It causes anyone to wonder if they truly experienced the living God during the celebration they supposedly took part in.  We cannot and should not approach the Mass as an obligation or something we simply do out of habit or routine because we close ourselves off from being awed by the living God that makes himself present in the Breaking of the Bread. That is why Jesus favored those who despite being sinners embraced his message because it’s never too late in God’s eyes to set things right, and the sinners rejoiced that were even acknowledged by God let alone forgiven. That is why we must empty ourselves as Christ did and become humble when we come to this table so that we may be open to whatever He has in store for us.  We must come to Mass with a total sense of wonder much like a child would. 

Who knows?  Maybe one day I may be standing outside the church with a child, and trust me they pick up on everything, and that child may actually be bold enough to ask those grumpy people coming out of Mass:  “Did Jesus make you angry?”